Iraqis turning guns, mortars into works of art

Wed Jan 14, 2009 5:53am EST
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By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A dragonfly fashioned from a machine gun barrel and a rifle butt carved into the portrait of an ancient Egyptian queen are just a few of the works Iraqi artists are making from weapons of war.

Graduates of Baghdad University's College of Fine Arts say the project they started late last year takes objects that have brought devastation to Iraq and uses them to create instead.

"It's a message from Baghdad to the world: we are transforming pieces of destruction into pieces of art," said sculptor Haider Muwafaq, laying down a blow torch he used to turn steel bars into an abstract model of an old Baghdad neighborhood.

The artists are unlikely to run out of materials. Iraq is one of the region's most militarized nations, awash with old weapons from Saddam Hussein's regime and new ones smuggled in by insurgents and militiamen.

Each day, the Iraqi Mine/Unexploded Ordnance Clearance Organization (IMCO) destroys some 800 weapons, including AK-47 rifles, old-style British Bren guns, mortar rounds and belt-fed machine guns collected by U.S. forces during raids.

"It's a pioneering idea," said IMCO boss Zahim Jihad Muttar. "To see weapons which were a means to destroy and slaughter be used to depict life and freedom: this is a beautiful thing."

At a small workshop in central Baghdad, a life-sized statue of a cowboy cobbled together out of rocket launcher parts and holding real pistols dominates the scene.

Next to him is a scrap metal fish, a very real-looking robot and a figurine of an acrobat swinging off the recoil spring from inside an AK-47.   Continued...

<p>An image of Egyptian queen Nefertiti is carved on a rifle butt from destroyed weapons by the Iraqi Mine/Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) Clearance Organisation in Baghdad January 14, 2009. REUTERS/May Naji</p>